by John Chimunhu
Eighty three refugees who were detained by the Zimbabwean government in February have vanished, amid fears that they have been deported to their countries of origin in violation of United Nations rules.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative for Zimbabwe, Marcellin Hepie, told The Zimbabwean that he did not know what had happened to the asylum seekers.
"As far as the people you are talking about are concerned, I really don't have any information. But they are not at Tongogara refugee camp," Hepie said.UNHCR documents in our possession show that 83 foreign refugees, including some who had made the arduous journey from Somalia and Ethiopia, were detained by the Harare authorities for illegal entry into the country.
"In February, approximately 83 asylum seekers were detained (including 21 under the age of 21)," the documents say.
The UNHCR expressed concern that most of the refugees granted asylum in Zimbabwe fled the country.
"At the beginning of 2011, Tongogara refugee camp experienced appropriately 70 to 90 new arrivals each month. It was reported in March that approximately 300 Somalis and Ethiopians transit through Zimbabwe every month. Of these individuals eventually reaching the camp, only 30 to 35 percent remain in the camp," UNHCR said.Moira Gombingo, a senior refugee official in the Department of Social Welfare, confirmed to The Zimbabwean that asylum seekers entering Zimbabwe were routinely handed over to the CIO [Central Intelligence Organization] for interrogation.
"From a security point of view, we have to find out who these so-called asylum seekers are. We call in the security agencies to deal with these state spies," Gombingo said.She confirmed that after being grilled by the CIO, the asylum seekers were then handed to the security services of their countries of origin without being allowed access to the UNHCR.
"We have to consider bilateral relations. For example, because we are in good books with the Zambians, if any of their nationals come, we let Zambian security deal with the issue," Gombingo said.She confirmed that during the DRC civil war, Rwandan refugees had been "dealt with" because the country was at war with Zimbabwe's ally.